ARCTIC SEA ICE –Brief thoughts on DMI “shoreline masking” problem–

Over the past couple years the Danes have tried to make their measurements of sea-ice more precise, which is admirable. I have always tended to give them the benefit of the doubt, in issues regarding sea-ice, because sea-ice is serious stuff to them, as they have to deal with it. Their fishermen deal with it and are an important part of their economy, and they have a close association with Greenland, which is awash with sea-ice. But their simple attempt to be more precise has made an amazing mess.

What was involved was a so-called “mask” which runs along shorelines, and in effect disqualifies shorelines from sea-ice measurements. There are many reasons for doing this, two of which I saw when living on the coast of Maine during bitter cold winters.

1.) Big tides can make a mudflat “open water” one mild morning, but “ice-covered” the next.

2.) Big winds can shove the ice to the coast in the morning and then pull the ice away when winds shift in the afternoon.

It would take a whole staff of observers simply to measure the ups and downs along coasts. It is far, far simpler (and cheaper) to skip the bother by skipping the coasts. Skipping-the-bother was called a “mask”, and ran along all the convoluted ins and outs of the arctic shores.

The change was to make the “mask” thinner. This immediately added ice to the amount counted, because sea-ice that wasn’t counted before was now counted.

One wonders how much ice such a small change in the “mask” could be? Surely it would be a tiny amount, would it not? I myself don’t know, but have heard that 1.4 million sq km of ice was added to the amount counted, which is not a tiny amount.

Adding so much ice to the total made the old DMI “30%” graph, which wasn’t adjusted, read too high, even as the new “15%” graph was adjusted, and read lower. This disagreement put DMI in an awkward position, where their own graphs disagreed hugely, and their response was to simply discontinue the old “30%” graphs. They simply could not spend the time to fix the problem in the old graphs.

They did have to spend the time to fix the problem with the new gtaphs, because you cannot have the sea-ice “extent” jump by 1.4 million and not expect an uproar. However to simply subtract 1.4 million is too simple an answer. Why not? I made an attempt to explain why things are not so simple, on another site, as follows:

“1.4 Million sq km is a nice figure for winter sea-ice, but even in the winter there are problems with it, because when the weather patterns are meridienal even in the winter the ice may not be snug with the shore, as polynyas form even when temperatures are far below zero in places like the top of Baffin Bay or the coasts of Siberia, when off-shore winds roar.

If there is no ice at all along the shore, it doesn’t matter if you mask more or mask less; zero ice is zero ice. Any program that assumes you need to add ice along that shore, due to less masking, is an adjustment that will need adjusting.

Now May has past, and we are no longer talking about winter sea-ice. We are talking about June sea-ice, and there will be a lot more open water along the shores. It matters less and less whether you halve or double the masking along the shores, because there is no ice in the area you are masking.

In the winter such a potential glitch is minor, as polynyas swiftly skim over with thin layers of ice. In the spring polynyas stop freezing over, and appear downwind of every shoreline. (For example, downwind of Wrangle Island.)

I very much doubt that the fellows at DMI go on blithely adding 1.4 million sq km of ice as a “masking adjustment” right through the summer. After all, they aren’t nincompoops. What I mean to suggest is that the jobs becomes more difficult, due to the need for the adjusted adjustment.”

This is only a guess on my part, but I wonder if such an “adjusted adjustment” may explain why the amount of sea-ice abruptly grew in these DMI maps, between May 24 and May 25. (Hat tip to Svend Ferdinandsen.) (May 24 is to the left, and May 25 to the right.)

May 24 satcon.arc.d-05 May 25 satcon.arc.d-04

(The best way to compare the above maps is to open them in new tabs, and then switch back and forth between them. You will notice an increase in ice that weather conditions can’t explain.)

Often I notice maps show sudden appearances or disappearances of ice, such as the one I point out above. My assumption always is that the fellows behind the scenes are dealing with some difficult problem, and have had to “tweak” the way a program handles data.

It would be best if we could deal with such problems like super-engineers, beforehand, and not later, when they explode in our face. However even super-engineers know of something called “Murphey’s Law”,  (also expressed in a famous Scottish poem as (roughly) “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”) All too often we have to deal with problems we never imagined would occur.

Who would have guessed simply reducing the “mask” along the arctic shoreline could cause such problems? (Likely there was some old Danish grouch warning the young idealists, but he was deemed a “wet blanket”, a “wrench in the works” , a “fossil”, and about fifteen other disparaging things I can think of, and then “fools rushed in, where wise men fear to go”. To which I reply, “Respect your elders” [especially me.])

In any case, it probably seemed a good thing initially to reduce the “mask” along the arctic shoreline by 50%. Is it not good to be more precise? Now the person or persons are facing “unintended consequences”, because people are noticing odd illogical happenings occurring in maps, and are being very rude and quoting Shakespeare and saying “something stinks in Denmark.”  This is unsympathetic and unfair.

Often, when you simply ask, or simply point out ice has vanished and/or appeared, and do so to the scientists involved with a polite email, you will receive a polite and sometimes quite lengthy and detailed explanation.

We should not stop asking questions. We especially shouldn’t automatically deride either the questioned (in this case DMI) or the questioner (in this case me.)

These things happen.


Hat-tip to the Blogger “Craig T” who produced this map over at . It does an excellent job of showing how reducing the “mask”(deep blue along the shores)  creates the impression there is more ice. (Green is ice that exists this year that didn’t exist on the same date last year.)

ARCTIC SEA ICE –Remaining Calm–

You have to be careful discussing the factors involving this year’s ice-melt up at the Pole, for at times 90% of what is discussed has nothing to do with Sea-ice.

In my view all the furor and hoop-la spoils the serenity of watching the ice melt, so I do my best to avoid it. Unfortunately nothing makes people more irate then speaking these two words, “Calm down.” (If you don’t believe me, try using them on your wife or husband…but strap on a helmet first.)

In actual  fact things do grow more calm to the north this time of year, which is why, (as we remember heroes on this Memorial Day), we remember D-day was planned for June 5, 1944. The North Atlantic was suppose to be at its least stormy in June. But, as is often the case with the weather, things did not proceed as forecast,  and a storm hit. One of the reasons D-day succeeded was because the Germans didn’t think the Allies would invade in a storm, but the Allies only delayed until June 6.

It is perhaps foolish to predict anything, especially anything involving the vast, silly storm called “Global Warming”, but I have done it. I predicted furor and hoop-la, and that part of my forecast has been 100% correct. The rest of my forecast is as follows:

The ice-melt will get off to a fast start, but slow as the summer proceeds, and in the end the minimum ice-extent  will be about what it was last year. I base my  guess on the following:

1.) During the winter the ice was very active, and sea-ice was compressed towards the center of the Arctic Sea. Also there was less cross-polar-flow, with less ice exported from the Siberian side to the Canadian side, so the ice is thicker towards Siberia. This suggests that, when the ice-edge melts back to these areas of thicker ice, the retreat of the ice-edge will slow.

2.) The fact the sea-ice was active involved the opening of many  leads in the Beaufort Sea. The exposure of the water to  cold winter winds likely chilled the water under the ice, and disturbed the stratification of seawater into various levels, with warmer but more saline waters less able to sneak under the ice northwards. Therefore I assume the water under the ice is colder.

3.) The waters south of Bering Strait were two degrees colder than 2015 throughout much of the winter, which suggests any water sneaking north through the strait would be colder, (and therefore less able to melt ice from beneath), than last year’s (very effective) waters.

4.) The export of ice south through Fram Strait was fitful, and at times even reversed, during the winter, which resulted in more sea-ice being left behind up at the Pole. As this export slows in the gentler winds of summer, more and thicker ice will be left behind, slowing the melt on the Atlantic side.

5.) The melt will begin rapidly, not due to the actual melting of ice, but because polynyas formed where the ice was pushed away from shore. This off-shore wind exposes water to cooling, but also results in up-welling of slightly warmer water by the shore.

6.) Even where up-welling doesn’t occur, huge arctic rivers pour snow-melt-floods north into the Arctic Sea, and, even though this water is ice-water, it is warmer (32F) than the ocean’s ice-water (29F), and it is also less saline until it mixes with the sea. This creates a “lens” of milder water along the coasts, speeding the ice-melt. As this “lens” pushes out to sea it becomes more mixed, and loses its effectiveness, in terms of melting.

7.) As the summer proceeds the warming effect of the El Nino will start to fade, and the effect of the “Quiet Sun” will become more apparent.

There you have it. I have already been told, “Caleb, you ignorant slut”, for making my forecast, so no one needs to say that again. In any case, I won’t know if I am right, wrong, or (most likely) partially correct, until August. Therefore I am simply going to stay calm, and sit back, and enjoy the show.

I had a tap on my shoulder and was reminded what really matters on  Friday evening. My wife’s brother was in a bad accident during the last snow of April, when a car came sliding across the road and crushed in his car’s driver’s side door. After an insurance hassle and physical therapy he got things back together, and was driving his brand new truck on Friday when a car came across the center line, smashed the vehicle in front of him, and managed to flip and once again crushed in the driver’s side door of the vehicle he drove.

Craig crash 20160527_165110

There was about a three hour delay between the time the wonders of the internet produced the above picture and the time I heard from the hospital that my brother-in-law was bruised, royally pissed off,  but otherwise OK.  Three hours is long enough to contemplate how much sea-ice really matters, in the scheme of things.

Not one hell of a lot. I wouldn’t even know it was there, if it weren’t for satellites, the internet, and fools who think it matters more than the practical details of ordinary life for ordinary people.

Generations upon generations have  lived their lives without a clue about what was occurring in the arctic, with the ice coming and going. It didn’t matter that sea-ice was at times nearly absent at the Pole, and at other times sea-ice grounded icebergs on the coast of Ireland, unless you lived on the coast of Ireland, or were a whaler seeking rich hunting grounds.Whaler 3 AmericanWhalersCrushedInTheIce

In some cases those whalers were hunting up in waters that people now completely freak out about, when they are open water rather than ice-covered. The history is available for those who bother to look. The whalers were glad the arctic was more ice-free on summers when the ice allowed them to sneak north. They didn’t freak out about open water in the mid 1800’s, so I want to tell people who freak out now, “Calm down”, but, like I said earlier, that doesn’t work. It especially doesn’t work when billions upon billions of dollars are involved, as people attempt to control the weather with hocus-pocus (when a Hopi priest could likely do a dance that would be more effective, far more cheaply).

The people most prone to hysteria are those who’s entire livelihood is based on the hysteria; ranging from honest professors to dishonest professors, from honestly ignorant idealists to snake-oil salesmen, from honest politicians representing deluded constituents to corrupt politicians lusting for power and gold.  The world has gone bonkers, and has forgotten common sense even to the degree where people can’t agree girl’s bathrooms are for girls, and what really matters gets ignored, until you get a tap on your shoulder. Then you remember. And then it seems most sad we are spending billions upon billions on dust in the wind.

In any case, there is little I  can do but take my own advice and “Calm down”.  I can point out that the current uproar about the polynya northeast of Alaska is about a situation we have seen before.

Poly 3 bathurst-and-w-beaufort-polynyas_1975-vs-2015_polarbearscience

I will likely be then told, “Caleb, you ignorant slut, it is much worse this year”.;2015-05-27/6-N75.7439-W143.49899

The above link takes you to a really a cool site, for it lets you slide about the arctic and zoom in and zoom out, noticing things Alarmists don’t mention, such as a bit more ice in the west of Bering Strait this year, and that it was more green inland in Alaska, last year, but it is not worth arguing that there is more ice north of the Mackenzie River delta this year, for there isn’t. And considering you are given the link to focus on that specific thing, it is impolite to focus elsewhere. And it is especially rude to tell a kind person who gives you a link that they are an ignorant slut. Therefore I usually avoid that.

As a general rule I find Alarmist put me in the shoes of defending the indefensible, but find it is best to traipse lightly by that trap, enjoying the wonder of a new spring with unique weather. Nothing irks Alarmists more than embracing the very thing they think will devastate you, and instead rhapsodizing about how wonderful it is.

And it indeed is a genuine wonder how smashed up the Beaufort Sea is, after all the winter storms. I think the El Nino created a very meridienal flow, and its lagging after-effects are keeping the temperatures merely normal, rather than giving us the below-normal cold waves we saw up in the Beaufort Sea last May and early June, (that, with a sheer guess, I think were due to the “Quiet Sun”.)

To compare two years with different weather patterns is a bit like comparing apples with oranges, but pointing out last year had ice increasing when it usually melts makes this year look less alarming, when you compare a 2015 map with a 2016 map.

Then I expect to hear, “Caleb, you ignorant slut, can’t you see how warm the water is north of the Mackenzie Delta?”

SST 0528 arcticsstnowcast

I like to nod and enthusiastically agree. It is really wonderful! Alaska had a mild winter (even as Mongolia had record cold) so the Mackenzie River is pouring out a nice freshwater lens. Also the off-shore winds that created the polynya also created up-welling. How cool! There may even be some sunshine slightly warming the water, though the sun has been dim the past week.

Obuoy 14 0529 webcam

At this point I scratch my jaw and say, “Odd”. Then I wait, until asked, “What? What’s odd?”  Then I shrug and say, “Oh, I just noticed the NRL map above shows -1°C where Obuoy 14 is located, but the buoy itself is reporting -5°C. I suppose the buoy is reporting the air, and NRL is reporting the water under the ice.  But…odd…”

Obuoy 14 0529 temperature-1week

“What? What’s odd?”

“Oh, it’s just that the picture shows the Mass Balance Buoy at that location is trashed. I just wonder how anyone knows what the temperature of the water under the ice is? It’s such a pity the buoys were so poorly placed and badly maintained, because they are so handy to have, when it comes to double-checking satellite data. But maybe they’ll rehire that guy they had last year, who was so good at recontacting buoys that went periods of time without signalling. It would be nice if we could get O-bouys 8b, 13 and 15 back, as well as Mass Balance Buoys 2015G, 2015I, and 2015J. Oh well, at least we have Mass Balance Buoy 2015F, reporting -4.31° C.  But…odd…

“What? What’s odd?”

“Well, its just that it seems cold over the ice…

Arctic 0529 cmc_t2m_arctic_2

…and high pressure seems to be blowing that cold air right towards the Mackenzie Delta…

Arctic 0529 cmc_mslp_uv10m_arctic_2

…And…well…you’re so concerned that the less-cold water north of the Delta might melt the ice, but wouldn’t those cold winds cool that water? ”

“Caleb, you ignorant slut.”

“Calm down.”


2016 to 2015

 2016 to 2014  

2016 to 2013  

2016 to 2012

 (Aside: In 2012 there was much less fracturing of the Beaufort ice and the water beneath was very stratified, with lots of warmer water available under the ice, which became very apparent during the polar gale that summer, when a great deal of ice melted in a matter of days.)

ARCTIC SEA ICE —DMI, we have a problem—


The serene spring in the arctic continues, with the 24-hour-sunshine gradually warming the air and the ice. The warming has to battle three forces of cooling, namely 1.) the cold in the ice “remembered” from winter,  2.) the cold created by the weather when cold downdrafts occur, and 3.) the cold created when windblown salt turns into brine. We haven’t yet seen much of 4.) the cold created when ice goes through the phase change and becomes liquid.

Not once, since records began being kept in 1958, have these 4 forces been able to keep the mean temperature below freezing. At best they can combine and create a small pocket of below freezing air in the height of summer, but on average thaw occurs everywhere, on the Arctic Sea, every summer. Only up at the higher altitudes in mountain glaciers or on Greenland’s Icecap can temperatures remain below freezing all summer.

This tends to be a boring time of year, as temperatures, although rising, are still below freezing,  so we don’t even get to see any melt-water pools. However the snow-scapes are lovely, which makes it sad that we have lost all but one camera, this year.

O-buoy 14 shows us the snow on the ice is still hasn’t thawed, as we await more interesting times.

May 17

Obuoy 14 0517 webcam

May 20

Obuoy 14 0520 webcam

May 23

Obuoy 14 0523B webcam

May 24

Obuoy 14 0524 webcam

Ordinarily these dull days would be a time to kick back and relax, however this year some added interest has come from the fact the satellites are malfunctioning, and giving us some false readings.

False 2 brouhaha-1-seaice-anomaly-arctic

False 1 3Xh4ptG

These false readings show an increase of sea-ice, so one would expect the sea-ice extent graph to also show a false increase. None do. Apparently the graphs were “corrected” or “adjusted”, or else they use some different data.

What people like myself do in such situations is to try to compare current satellite images with past images, to get an idea of what the reality is.

I myself have to use the most primitive rule-of-thumb estimates,  but at other site people more skilled than I use more techincal means. For example, over at the Realclimatescience site the host compared the DMI maps from the present with DMI maps from a year earlier. (2015 to the left; 2016 to the right.)

Next, because he has the ability to tell his computor to do this, he compares where there is more ice with where there is less ice.

False 5 2016-05-24-05-30-42

Lastly, it is an easy matter (for him and not me) to instruct his computer to count the red pixels and count the green pixels.  The result?  1267 red pixels   1512 green pixels. I can do the simple arithmetic, and see that there are 245 more pixels of ice this year than there were last year. Therefore, considering this is what the DMI maps show, it seems that the DMI graph should show there is more ice this year than last year. Does it?  

False 6 icecover_current_new (1)

In fact the graph shows there is considerably less ice this year.

DMI, we have a problem. Things simply are not adding up, when one compares your maps with your graphs. I am trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, assuming that the problems with the satellites are to blame, but you should face the fact the problem is glaring, and explain the reasons.

You see, DMI, laymen like myself have trusted you, because we felt the Danes would be less inclined to produce fudged data, as they have interests in arctic waters. Danish fishermen have their lives on the line. We thought you were not like the others. Others have made climate science into a farce. The general public is increasingly distrustful of what the media reports is “scientific fact.”

In other words, your reputation is at stake. You must explain why the maps differ from the graph, or change maps, or change the graph. (In the process someone, somewhere, must confess, “I made a mistake.”)

The arctic will ignore us, and simply be honest with itself.  It is a pity when humans differ.

The maps show quiet times at the Pole.

I am going to try to find time to focus on what these maps show, tomorrow, with an update.


Sorry, I couldn’t find the time. I have to put a whole garden in at my Farm-childcare. Then, when I do find a bit of free time, I am most interested in the comments my posts get. This post got some good ones, that kept my mind too busy to update.

LOCAL VIEW –Sidekickery–

The weather map is blind to what went on in New Hampshire today (May 19). Or, well, they do put two orange dashes on the map, to show something or another was passing through.

20160519 satsfc

Radar is not much better, just showing disorganized showers drifting from the west to the east.

20160519 rad_ne_640x480

However here on the ground you could feel a relenting of the bone-dry, greatly modified arctic air, and a hint of summer move in. The fronts may be “ghost fronts”,  but between the first and second line of showers (faintly seen in the above radar) was the memory of some sort of warm sector. It felt as sweet as forgiveness.

The sprinkles of rain were barely enough to settle the dust, but it felt like a different sort of drought was ending. The air wasn’t just warmer, it was moister. It didn’t chap your eyeballs any more. My stiff, old joints felt looser, and I pottered about the garden at twice the speed I usually potter. That may not be very fast, in the eyes of the young, but by my standards I was really flying.

Things quicken in May, and already asparagus is popping up, and rhubarb is ready to pick. Kids at my Farm-childcare pester me to pick them a stem of rhubarb, which around 75% of the kids find appealing, and which they munch like very sour celery. Around 95% of the kids find the poisonous leaf appealing.  Not that they eat it. Rather it serves as a hat.

Rhubarb Hats IMG_3015

You would not believe how the kids fight over these hats. They do not cost me a penny. Any parent who ever feels guilty for not not buying the latest Disney Toy for their child should rest assured children will whine and weep just as much over toys that Disney does not make a cent from.

In fact the boy in the yellow raincoat (who wishes to remain anonymous) does not have a rhubarb hat (though he munched that entire stalk of rhubarb in his right  hand.)  I came up one rhubarb leaf short, when picking. The lad then made such a fuss about how his sister (also anonymous) got a hat and he didn’t that I picked him a burdock leaf, and told him rhubarb was for fairy princesses, but tough gremlins wore burdock. The boy in the middle then began contemplating whether he really wanted a sissy, fairy hat, or whether the situation was unfair, and he should demand justice, and whine that that he wanted a gremlin hat, too.

All the whining and complaining I face is likely very much like the whining and complaining parents face in stores, but on a farm it costs nothing, whereas in a store it costs part of a parent’s paycheck. As far as I am concerned parents should draw the line. At most they should buy one toy a year from a store, and no more. It is a well known fact children often derive more joy from the cardboard box the toy came in, than the toy itself. Children will not be deprived if the parents saves money. They most certainly will not be deprived of chances to whine and complain, for children find ways to fill that need without the parents needing to spend a fortune. Parents will have ample opportunity to deal with that need. Parents should bankrupt Disney by buying no toys, and giving their child rhubarb and burdock leaf-hats instead. Parents will wind up richer, and need to work less, and then they can bankrupt me, by caring for their own kids, which will make them richer still.

Until parents catch on, I’ll continue to have the sheer audacity of charging them for the joy of spending time with their kids, and teaching children joyous nonsense, such as that burdock leaves are gremlin hats.

I actually shouldn’t have any burdock leaves in stock in my toy store, for I have tried to eradicate burdock on my farm, because when autumn comes children have a way of being mischievous with the burrs, by  flinging them into another child’s hair. This may even be what spreads the seeds all over the farm. I even caught one malevolent little girl advising another, younger girl that it was “stylish” to put roughly a hundred burrs in her hair. The agony of removing all those burrs was something I hope to never endure again. Therefore, every spring, we dig up burdock and peel the bark off the roots to eat the tasty inner core.

I should mention that people into herbal medicine claim burdock has all sorts of healing benefits. I don’t know about that. I only know the plant is awfully bitter, except the inner part of the root. The outer part of the root is awful. My pigs won’t touch it, and they root up most everything.  Also children won’t touch it, except for the inner part of the root. So that is as far as I go.

I have great respect for people who study herbal medicine, but I think the real herbalists own a sort of uncanny gift I recognize, but don’t have.  I could study herbs until the cows come home, but it would lack some crucial “knowing”.  Lots of New-Age hippies have never really understood this,  and do study herbs until the cows come home,  but definitely lack the gift.  In fact, to be blunt, some even make the subject of herbs dirty. How they can make such a beautiful subject filthy amazes me. I suppose it has something to do with a focus on sex and drugs, rather than on nourishment and healing, but at times they make me ashamed of my own generation, and at other times, when you see me leaning on my hoe and looking at the clouds, such thinking leads me far away from my garden.

Often I am brought back to earth by the voice of a small child at my side, wanting to know “whatcha doing?” Usually it is obvious what  I am doing, so I usually answer them, “Making a pizza.” They then grin and exclaim, “You are not!  You are hoeing the potatoes!” (or whatever.) In fact my answer, “making a pizza” has become a tradition, but one nice thing about four-year-old’s is that jokes don’t get old with them. You’d think they’d learn, but they still always ask me, “Whatcha doing?”, which has convinced me it is just their way  of starting a conversation.

Often a child is sent to me, even when I am off duty,  because they are having a bad day and disrupting the activity of the group. I suppose getting sent to me is like being sent to the principle or headmaster, at a school, but they are too young to really deserve any punishment. My wife is of the opinion it is asking too much of a small child to expect them to fit the regimes of organized activity from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and many times they simply need a break. To that I would add that sometimes they just need to have a good cry.

In any case, I suddenly find myself with a small sidekick, and this has led me to think about the subject of sidekickery. It seems a very American thing, and different from Europe, where there seems to be more stress on knowing your place, on class, on  who is “royal” and who is “common”. I have never been big on that, which may be why some say I lack class.

I don’t really like being a leader, but also don’t like being a follower. I’d rather be a sidekick, and I’ve gotten rather good at it over the years. I think it was a skill I developed back in the days when hitchhiking was a common way to get around. It seemed a matter of courtesy, and an expression of gratitude: To be entertaining and make intelligent conversation and/or be a good listener while sitting beside people, whether the ride was five miles or five hundred. At first I was usually  the passenger, but later I  was the driver. Then, as I worked a wide variety of jobs, I found the skill useful when I was “the new kid” at a workplace, and also useful because conversation often was the only way to keep the sheer monotony of some of the jobs from driving me crazy (and sometimes it didn’t work, and then I’d be part of crazy conversations.)

One of the most important, and most American, aspects of being a sidekick involves a recognition that the person beside you is an equal. They might be richer or poorer, smarter or more stupid, taller or shorter, but the ordinary senses of inferiority and superiority are held in abeyance,  and, with egotism out of the way, higher things can become apparent, as one sees it be self-evident that God created all men equal.

This is not to say we are not different. When my sidekick is a four-year-old girl the differences are obvious and enormous. But if I put the child at ease, they walk beside me chatting away as if we’d been friends for twenty years.

This is not to say I don’t have authority and keep control. (Hitchhikers don’t grab the steering wheel.)

And most importantly this is not to say that I have the same gifts. Gifts are one of the most interesting things about small  children, because they all have them, yet are blissfully unaware of the given. When a small child is gifted with perfect pitch and a beautiful voice they take it for granted, and are unaware there is anything special about their singing, unless told. Often they will be perfectly happy singing with the tone deaf (though the next day they may demand the other child be quiet).

Some gifts are obvious. A small Mozart impresses everyone, for music is something we accept as a reality, even if we are not gifted. Other gifts are less obvious, and, if we ourselves don’t have that particular gift, we are quite likely to disbelieve it even exists. If we have a Man-from-Missouri attitude, and demand others “prove it”, we may in fact be asking the impossible. Can a color-blind person demand others prove color exists?

One of the best examples of this involves dowsers. I lack that gift, and was convinced the ability to dowse was sheer humbug. Then, at a small country fair, a dowser was displaying his ability, and I was rolling my eyes in my usual manner and deeming the fellow a skilled con artist, when, while the dowser wasn’t looking,  my three-year-old son picked up the man’s dowsing rod, (actually a couple of stiff, L-shaped wires), and wandered over to the place where the dowser said there was water, and the rods responded. I felt my son had succumbed to the powers of suggestion, and made my small boy walk this way and that, and the rod kept responding at the same place. It was spooky.

Then I saw the dowser looking at me with a knowing sort of smile. He asked me if I was the child’s father, and I said I was. He asked me if I had the gift of dowsing and I stated I definitely didn’t. To prove it I took the dowsing rods and walked about and absolutely nothing happened. Then the man asked my son to touch my elbow as I walked, and to my great consternation the two L-shaped rods suddenly swung and crossed as I walked over the certain spot where water was. Double spooky.

I demanded an explanation. The dowser couldn’t explain it. It was just something he had noticed: When a person with the gift of dowsing touches his father, his father temporarily has the gift, even if he doesn’t believe the gift exists.

It was a very humbling experience,  because I tend to see myself as being a person with an open mind, and scorn people who believe with blinders. I ask for evidence and proof, whereas some believe with blind faith (whether it be in a religion or in Global Warming), and I had plopped “dowsers” into the “blind faith” category.  Now the tables were turned. I was suddenly the dullard Horatio, and a Hamlet was telling me, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” It was obvious my mind wasn’t so open, after all.

Be that as it may, I am what I am, and must base my decisions on what I know. I will never say I know water is located where a dowser says it is located, because I do not know it. That is not my gift.

But I will have a smidgen more respect for people who are different than I am. I will allow them the benefit of the doubt. And this is especially true when they are four years old.


I have been very busy, and four days have passed without this post being finalized. I should have just posted it as it was, but something was unsaid, and stirring about in the back of my brains.

 Although I don’t have the gift a true herbalist has, I have been weeding gardens since I was a small boy. In fact my first way of making a bit of extra money as a boy was to weed for neighbors. I suppose you can’t do that for over a half century without knowing which weeds are a nibble, which make a meal, and which cause a rash or are poisonous.

Some things I learned from my father, who “stalked the wild asparagus” before Euell Gibbons wrote the book. My father read “Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America”, and liked to impress people by producing a dinner from their woods or from their beach, if he was visiting their summer house. Euell Gibbons liked to do the same thing, which he called “a wild party”.

Hippies like to take credit for the “back to nature movement”, but actually such fads have occurred often thoughout history, and Euell Gibbon’s book was a best seller in 1962, during a pre-hippy surge of interest. At that same time my father had heard of a young woman who wanted to work on her master’s degree by going to the Amazon and studying the herbs that natives used, to see if their primitive medicine involved any drugs modern medicine might utilize. She was being discouraged, but my father used his influence to encourage her and make the journey possible. (This was one of the many things he did that I never heard about, until after he died.)

My father had more respect for “witch doctors” than some might expect in a surgeon, and I often noticed he had an uncanny ability to work the subject around to local cures and old-wive’s-tales, when talking with patients, or even while chatting with a stranger he bought a newspaper from. He had a skill at putting his patients at ease, when they were very nervous about facing surgery, and if their native language wasn’t English he knew how to say, “Does it hurt here? How about here?” in an amazing number of other languages.  I learned a lot about being skilled at sidekickery from him, besides learning about wild foods.

This put me ahead of the curve, when hippies wanted to “go back to nature” in the late 1960’s, and were starting communes, to some degree very much like their homesteading American ancestors. Most communes didn’t last very long, once youth found how much hard work was involved, but there was a general sense the world was going to face a huge disaster of some sort, especially after the first “Earth Day” in 1970, when Paul Ehrlich predicted, “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”

I recall reading a National Geographic back then that had graphs and charts that showed we would run out of oil by 1980. Therefore I suppose it was only common sense that I should study edible wild plants further. I  wanted to be able to eat when the supermarkets were empty. Then, as the years past, the worry seemed a bit silly, and Paul Ehrlich looked like a man who profited off fear and foolishness. (This may be why I have always had caution, regarding Global Warming claims.)

In any case, I am now an old man who tends to munch the weeds in his garden, and of course the kids at the Farm-childcare are curious, and ask a lot of questions. I am amazed by how often I don’t know the answer. I have to be careful, because I’d be in deep trouble if a child ate a poisonous plant, and on one occasion I did have to hurry to the web after a child ate a partridge berry,  which I myself avoided because I had a vauge knowledge they were “medicinal.” (Partridge berries turned out to be a mild tranquilizer, apparently used by rural woman during childbirth.) Now children at my Childcare delight in showing their parents the way to tell a checker berry from a partridge berry.

One plant I discovered I didn’t know the name for was locally called “witch grass”, but didn’t match the “witch grass” that appeared on the screen of my computer. It was one of the first grasses that appeared in the spring, and I noticed not only cows, horses and goats, but dogs, foxes and cats would eat it as soon as it appeared. So did I, as a boy. Apparently it is a “spring tonic”, and makes up for a chronic vitamin deficiency that grows during the winter, when there are no berries, and green vegetables aren’t available.  I had no idea that was what I was doing, as a boy; I just liked the flavor, and also the loud, clarinet noise you could make by holding a flat blade between your thumbs and blowing. Later I liked it because I made silver dimes and quarters weeding it from people’s gardens. Locally everyone called it “witch grass”.

I assumed it was called “witch grass” because it was bad like a witch, to have it in your garden. It spreads underground with rhizomes, and if you rotor-till it you basically break up the rhizomes and turn one plant into fifty. I developed a knack for following the rhizomes underground, and was a good kid to have in the neighborhood, if you hated the weed and also hated weeding. However one day I told my father it was called “witch grass” because it was evil, and this seemed to rub the man’s fur the wrong way, because I received quite a long-winded history lesson in return.

I think there may be a certain shame in New England about the Salem Witch Trials, and a certain inherited cautiousness about leaping to conclusions. I know my father was more hostile towards judgmental priests than towards old ladies who knew their herbs. He explained to me that a “witch” was the same thing as a “doctor”, in the old days, but priests didn’t like sick people getting better outside of their church. They especially didn’t like people getting better whom their church hadn’t been able to cure. They got jealous.

Priests felt they held a monopoly on healing, because Jesus was the Great Physician, and priests didn’t understand that the Creator created herbs for a reason. Often an old lady could get in trouble simply by serving a person who showed signs of vitamin C deficiency a rose-hip tea loaded with vitamin C. The priests felt “God should get the glory” but actually wanted the glory themselves, and did inglorious things, such as burning elderly healers at the stake.

Apparently the roots for the word “witch” was a word that meant “holy” in ancient times, and “wih” meant “holy” in old German. In Germany “wih” was pronounced “Vih”, (Gestapo: “ve vill be vatching you”), and therefore a person burned at the stake was a “victim”. Basically the word “witch” wasn’t originally as bad as it became. This is true for other words as well. (The words “divine” and “devil” have the same root). Something strange must have happened back in the mists of time, which we only remember as the legend of Satan falling from heaven with half of the angels. For some unknown reason it became necessary to make a distinction where before there had been unity.

Later on, during the Little Ice Age, when times were bad and crops failed, priests had a bad habit of abusing this distinction, and looking around for someone to blame for the fact prayers went unanswered, needing a scapegoat they could punish. Towards the end of this horrible abuse of Truth the Salem Witch Trials occurred, and became a warning to all, of the dangers of mass hysteria.

The little I heard of this history as a boy impressed me greatly. Not all the lessons were good:  For example, “A bunch of screaming girls can overpower the logic of adults.”

Much made no sense. For example, it was said that a person “owned by the devil” could not recite the Lord’s Prayer. On the steps of the gallow Pastor George Burroughs spoke his final sermon, ending with the Lord’s Prayer, and onlookers were in tears, but his accusers only needed to say that the “black man” was telling him what to say, and he was hung.

Another insanity denies the scripture, “If we confess our sins He (Jesus) is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In Salem to confess your sin got you hung, (and in many cases what was confessed was what we would call a “shortcoming”).

But the guy who grabbed my attention when I was young was an 81-year-old man named Giles Cory, who refused to confess. He refused to plead innocent as well, for he knew that if he “plead” everything he owned would be taken by the government, and the people named in his will would get nothing. When accused of being a witch he refused to plead innocent, and refused to plead guilty.

In such cases, when a person “refused to plead”, they were stripped naked, laid on their back in a pit with boards on top of them, and heavy rocks were put on the boards, until the person either plead innocent or guilty. It didn’t work with Giles Corey. All he would say is “More weight.”  (Legend has it that the sheriff actually  stood on the rocks and looked down at the poor old man, whose tongue was protruding from his mouth, and, after pushing the tongue back into Giles’s mouth with his toe, asked Giles if he was ready to plead, and Giles only responded, “More weight, and curse all Sheriffs of Salem.”  Then he died. This is trivia, but that sheriff, and all following sheriffs of Salem, suffered from, and died of, heart ailments, until the sheriff’s office was moved to another town.)

As a youth I thought Giles Corey was totally cool. Rather than confessing my sins like a good Christian, I wanted to be like Giles. This was especially true when my Math teacher asked me if I’d done my homework.

With this horrible example of humanity in my homeland’s history, you might think people in New England would avoid witch-hunts ever afterwards, and to some degree we have. I can recall as a small child how a man in our neighborhood, who had attended communist meetings as a student, was attacked by anticommunists, and how proud my parents were that the entire neighborhood stood up to defend the man from the “witch hunt”. But the simple fact that the witch hunt could even happen showed humanity is reluctant to learn.

My Dad was sensitive to the problem of slow-learners,  because when Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. first suggested invisible germs might be the cause of puerperal fever in 1843, he faced a backlash.  Holmes lived until 1894, and was the mentor of my father’s mentor, who lived until 1946, and therefore the backlash against the idea of “germs” was something my father knew a lot about.

One word Oliver Wendell Holmes coined was “anesthesia”,  for it was a new idea at that time that it might be good to reduce a patient’s pain. Some doctors opposed dulling the pain of childbirth, and the famous obstetrician Dr. Charles Delucena Meigs warned against the morally “doubtful nature of any process that the physicians set up to contravene the operations of those natural and physiological forces that the Divinity has ordained us to enjoy or to suffer“. In other words, God wants women to suffer and doctors shouldn’t get in His way. It was a case of a young and hopeful idealist coming up against a so-called “conservative Christian.”

Not that my father believed in any hippy pseudoscience regarding herbs. He believed doctors should stick to scientifically provable facts, and had a fierce dislike for any sort of psychology that was based on theory alone, especially when there was no sign of improvement in the patients. However he did have respect for old ladies that noticed when their family was healthy after being served certain foods or teas. He felt such grandmothers had powers of observation that were quite scientific, even if they seemed uncanny to others, and a “gift”.

I suppose he was right. I just feel that at times our ability to be “scientific” happens so fast that it seems to occur unscientifically.  For example, students of music can point out the music of Bach obeys fabulous rules of harmony, but Bach wrote the music so swiftly it is impossible that he was referring to any rule-book; he simply knew the rules by heart, in a way we describe as being “a gift”. Likewise, when any musician is improvising, and at their best, they are obeying rules more swiftly than a super-computer, and relaxing as they do it. It is a gift.

In like manner, some people simply have a gift, concerning herbs. Usually it is women, but perhaps that is because women are often the cooks. All I am certain of is that I don’t have that gift. All my knowledge of herbs is more along the lines of trivia, boyishly gathered over the years, and still being gathered. For example, just yesterday I learned the real name for “witch grass.”

It took me a long time. Do you have any idea how many kinds of grass there are? I gave up, but then later decided to google “the worst weeds”. Bingo. Found it.  “Elytrigia repens”, also known as “quackgrass”.Weeds 2 IMG_3010

It should be obvious that my gift isn’t in recognizing the value of herbs. In fact the above, wandering prose shows you how how long it takes me to get from “what is that weed called?’ to the answer, “Quackgrass.” In truth, my gift lies in Sidekickery. I am the sort of hitchhiker a fellow with many boring miles to cross was glad to pick up, because I could take a simple subject like “a common weed” and turn it into a long tale, and the miles would fly past.

The other day, however, a four-year-old girl became my sidekick, and she was not the slightest bit interested in my gift. I knew she was going to wind up with me, for one of my best employees responds to a child’e misbehavior with a booming, joyous laugh, and I heard that laugh a lot from afar, as I was off-duty in my garden, gathering a wheelbarrow of small stones to dump into an annoying pothole in the driveway. My mind was focusing on the many uses for stones, and I was thinking of writing a post on the subject, when I heard the wonderful, booming laugh from nearby, and waved in a certain way that means, “Send the kid to me.”

Mind you, this girl had been completely unable to obey any rules all morning. Wrestling is forbidden, but she kept jumping on the boys and happily tussling. The group is suppose to “stay on the path” but she would dart into the underbrush. When children run ahead they are suppose to “wait at the gate”, but she wouldn’t. And so on. She had absolutely no ability to “stay focused,” and surely would be diagnosed as having some sort of “attention deficit”, until she joined me. Then, abruptly, she had a one track mind.

She kept asking me, over and over, “Mr Shaw? Can you eat this?” nor would she allow me to be garrulous, as I answered.

I was a bit wounded, for I did want to be garrulous, and wanted to talk about what I was doing: Picking up stones. I wanted to talk about stonewalls in New England, and the various types, and the block and tackle used for moving huge boulders, and the poem by Robert Frost, but she would have none of it. Therefore, using my skill in sidekickery, I shifted to her subject, but even then I was too long winded. As I gathered stones and tossed them into the barrow, our conversation went like this:

“Mr. Shaw, can you eat this?”

“Sure. That’s mint. But is isn’t a meal. It’s a spice. Nobody eats mint as a vegetable. Cow’s won’t touch it, and goats only nibble a bit. This is the case with many…”

“I don’t like it much. How about this?”

“No, that is goldenrod. It has a pretty flower, and Henry Ford gave Thomas Edison a Model  T with tires made from rubber from goldenrod, but…”

“How about this?”

“That is yellow dock. It’s OK. Tastes of lemon and makes your mouth dry, but loaded with potassium, and herbalists say…”

“Ptui!  I don’t like it. How about this?”

“That is dandilion. It is called a lion because it is the king of herbs and cures more than you can shake a stick…”

“It tastes like lettuce.”

“Yes, bitter lettuce, and it gets more bitter as the summer passes…”

Weeds 3 IMG_3011

“What about this?”

“That’s wild mustard. It’s a member of the cabbage family, and…”


“Yes. Try the flowers of that one over there. Its seeds are interesting because they are flat and heart shaped rather than…”

Weeds 4 IMG_3012

“Mmm! Like sweet brocolli! How about this?”

“I don’t know what that is. And what is the rule when we don’t know?”

“Don’t eat it. But what about this one?”

“That is chickweed. It makes a good salad, but…hey! Don’t take such big mouthfuls!”

“I like it! It’s good!”

Weeds 1 IMG_3008

“Yes, but it is fibrous. You should chop it up or you’ll wind up with a cud like a cow.”

“I like that. It’s like chewing gum.”

“Well, if you don’t mind….and those weeds sure are doing well this year. Chickweed seems to like a cold spring with just a mist of…”

“And what is this?”

And so it went. The girl took full advantage of my gift of sidekickery, as I marveled over how focused she was, and wondered if she might have a gift, regarding herbs.

I also wondered how teachers can ever think that, just because a child does not want to attend to the subject they want to teach, the child has a “disorder”.  The child has a gift, but the teacher is not teaching anything that pertains to the gift. If a disorder is involved, might it not be TAD, “Teacher’s Attention Disorder?”

Other teachers may refuse to admit they suffer from TAD, but I sure do. I never get to teach what I really want to, and instead must be a sidekick. Perhaps that is why scripture says we should “suffer” the little children. But I don’t even do that right, because even when they interrupt my garrulous utterances, their innocent lack-of-wisdom is a lot more interesting than all I know.  There is some suffering, but it is outweighed by joy.


Ordinarily this is a fairly quiet time of the year, in the world of ice-watchers, which is a world far less stressful than the world of bird-watchers, if you can avoid the politics. The temperatures tend to slowly edge up towards freezing, with only an occasional thawing spike that barely softens the crisper drifts of snow, despite 24-hour sunshine.

Obuoy 14 0517 temperature-1week

Obuoy 14 0517 webcam

Even though the snow at the very top of the ice warms (at this point to around -4°C) it is still colder than the sea-water under the ice, which is around -1.8°C.  What is even more interesting is that the ice between the top and the bottom “remembers” the cold of winter, and in places is around -20°C. Though this colder ice is being warmed from both above and below, it supplies a sort of drag or delay to the warming. It also makes sure that, rather than the ice melting and thinning, sea-ice in the Central Arctic keeps right on getting thicker, despite the fact temperatures are warming, and despite the fact ice way down south at the periphery of the sea-ice is melting away. This thickening can be seen in Mass Balance Buoy 2015F.

2015F 0517 thickness 2015F_thick

It came as a surprise to me, years and years ago, when I was still wet behind the ears as a ice-watcher, that the ice was still getting thicker in May. After all, the ice-extent graph is plunging, and there tends to be a certain degree of hoopla about ice melting away. Who would ever dream it was thickening?

Scientists would, for they are the ones who, through considerable effort and some degree of risk, installed the buoys that gave us the actual data, including the above chart.

Now that I am an older and wiser ice-watcher, I have learned a thing or two from the genuine scientists who actually study the ice, and know this is a pretty boring time of year. The really important melt, in terms of theories such as the “Ice Free Pole” and the “Death Spiral”, involves the Central Arctic, and that melt hasn’t even started yet. I even feel a little embarrassed about how excited I used to get about the melting away at the edges, in April and May.

People who do get excited tend to be rookies, like I once was, or the sensationalist media (who sadly are too often more interested in titillating readers, and too often know diddlysquat about science,)   and politicians who are, too often, even worse than the media, and (with blessed exceptions) primarily out for themselves.

Not that I don’t pay attention to the retreat of the ice at the edges, as it can tell you things about the sea-surface temperatures. In the end, the ice at the edges will all be gone by September, and is gone every year, but how it retreats can be interesting. This year I have been watching Bering Strait, because earlier the seawater was a full two degrees colder than 2015, and even though the sea-surface temperatures have now equalized I am watching to see if the earlier, colder waters had an effect. (This may or may not have an effect later in the melt-season, as those waters move under the ice and melt from below.)

I like to compare the NRL “thickness” maps from the same dates in 2015 and 2016, and to see what changes the passage of a year has brought about.


The best way to compare these maps is to hope the blogger Max™ drops by and does it right in the comments, but in the meantime what I do is open the two maps in two new tabs and then click back and forth between them.

2016 has been different from 2015. In 2015 a cross-polar-flow brought Siberia to Canada and later to Boston, and lots of ice was exported from the Siberian side of the Pole and crunched up against Canada. In 2016 the cross-polar-flow was far less and actually reversed at times, and as a consequence there is less ice towards Canada but much more towards Siberia. I doubt very much the melt along the Siberian coast will be as swift and extensive as it was last year, especially if any of the two-degrees-colder water got sucked north through Bering Strait.

I think that is what serious ice-watchers are focused on and are debating, but I am increasingly concerned that the media and politicians are screwing everything up. How? Well, because they are so concerned about how they look, rather than how things are down deep, they are more interested in superficial things rather than the deeper truths scientists are after. Scientists often are so focused on their study they forget to comb their hair and are a bit disheveled, while politicians have every hair in place.

You really don’t want politicians pressuring scientists, threatening to withhold funding if scientists don’t promote some superficial political policy. No wise king would ask that either of his wizards or of his jesters. A wise king wants the Truth, but a fool tells his wizards and jesters what to say. This is foolish because kings cannot control the powers of nature, King Canute could not control the tides. You want honest scientists who report what is actually happening, not rump swabs who tell you what you want.

There is an old saying that “fish rots (or stinks) from the head down”, which insinuates a bad leader will make those beneath him bad, or at least less good. Hopefully those good scientists beneath a bad leader will push back, and resist the corruption. Increasingly there are signs there is trouble in paradise, and all is not well in the back corridors of academia, especially in the world of sea-ice. Cameras are poorly placed, the “North Pole Camera” wasn’t even funded this year, only a single O-buoy camera still works, only a single Mass Balance Buoy still functions, and the satellites that determine sea-ice-extent are all out of whack.

Brouhaha 1 seaice.anomaly.arctic

Things simply are not as well-run as they once were. The site,     pointed out a seemingly glaring discrepancy today, basically showing that, to quasi-quote Shakespeare, “Something stinks in Denmark”, because things don’t add up. The DMI extent graph shows ice-extent plunging like this:

Brouhaha 2 2016-05-17-02-17-51

But the host of that Realclimatescience site, well aware of all the problems going on with satellites malfunctioning and so forth, decided to use the DMI maps to do a simple thing. Compare the map from May 12 with May 16, show where sea-ice increased as green  and where ice decreased with red, and he came up with this:

Brouhaha 3 2016-05-17-02-14-03

When some eyeball this DMI-extent-map, it does not look like it matches the DMI-extent-graph. I myself don’t want to join this argument, for, as I said earlier, the ice-loss at the edges in May doesn’t really matter that much, as ice-gain at the center is still going on. However, considering this time of year is usually dull for ice-watchers, I must confess the bickering makes for an interesting scientific sit-com.

In the theater in France back in the 1500’s the audience liked it to be made plain who the good-guys were and who the bad-guys were. Therefore, when a member of the clergy was actually doing the work of Satan, he made a sound that let the audience know he was crooked to the core. The noise was, “Brouhaha.” (In my mind’s eye I see an officious and pompous person, clearing their throat.)

That seems to be the noise we are getting from sea-ice-scientists. A brouhaha is going on, behind the scenes, even to the point where the equipment is not properly maintained and is breaking down. In their meek and inhibited way, scientists are having some sort of full fledged brawl.

Meanwhile, up at the Pole, the weather is indifferent to our human Perils Of Pauline. Truth is what Truth does.

High Pressure over the Pole weakened to a ridge and then finally collapsed over to the Canadian side, as Siberian and North Atlantic lows joined forces. Now we have a Pacific-to Atlantic cross-polar-flow, with temperatures close to normal.

Besides the fact the flow at the Pole looks more meridienal than zonal, things look fairly dull. But when the media has no news to report, it, in a seeming desperation, makes itself the news. And when politicians join this foolishness, things can become exciting.


LOCAL VIEW –Last Nasty Blast—

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A (hopefully) final blast of winter air attacked us this morning, but didn’t quite destroy my garden. My fear was that winds would die down, and frost might form in the calm, but even though temperatures were down to 36° (2° Celsius) the air stayed well mixed, for the winds roared. Nothing really grew, today, in the garden, but nothing froze.

What I really worry about is how dry it is. Ordinarily this would be the end of what we call “The Mud Season”, but this year mud has been strangely absent. Not that children at my Farm-childcare haven’t been able to locate small bogs with their exquisite mud-radar, but is has been nothing, compared to other years, when their parents sank in our parking lot. I could go on at great length about what a true Mud Season entails, but, considering it didn’t happen this year, I’ll leave such wisdom for some other night.

We are actually in a small pocket of drought, hardly noticeable in the big picture.  In the map below, we are smack dab in the middle of the tiny blue area of least rainfall in southeastern New Hampshire and northeastern Massachusetts.

Drought 1 nws_precip_conus2_mtd(18)

We will never get any headlines, but the children are deprived of their mud. Rather than the little rill that springs at one side of the farm and crosses the property being at bank-full, it looks as shrunken as it usually starts to look in July. (It usually dries up in August).

Drought 2 IMG_2984

You can see the children aren’t completely deprived, but you’ll have to trust me on this. That ain’t nothing. The year of Hurricane Agnes the entire pasture was a swamp, deep into June.

Of course children demonstrate slight signs of sanity at times, and this morning, with the temperature 36° and the winds gusting up near 30 mph and the wind-chill nasty, they showed surprising discretion, and no inclination to wallow and get wet. (One reason may have been that their winter coats were put away by their parents in early May, and they arrived under-dressed.) However by afternoon the May sun is so high and bright (and the day is so long) the arctic air had warmed to 56° (13° Celsius). Children then have less discretion, and even though playing in the rill was strictly forbidden, running water is unbelievably seductive. Below is a picture from the little bridge over the rill, and the small boy at the very bottom of the picture is either a natural born scientist, or a natural born outlaw. (Maybe both….which might make him a Climate Scientist.)

Drought 3 IMG_2983

Fortunately the rill is sandy there, and I worry less about parents arriving to see their children look like the Tar Baby, due to mud. However the the picture also shows the rill is barely trickling.

What is more, the wind had a nasty dryness to it. It likely was dry, arctic air to begin with, and when you warm dry air it gets drier. It had already been warmed, when I called it cold in the morning and it was 36°, but when warmed twenty more degrees to 56° it chapped your eyeballs, and every other exposed flesh.

And I had to find time to water my seedlings, as if was a hot spell in June.

The odd thing is, all these indications of dryness don’t really show in the statistics. This too is a subject for another night, but it is something I often notice. Another year, with similar statistics, might see the rill rushing. (Or, in the winter, two years with similar statistics might see the pond’s ice one foot thick on one year, and four feet thick on another.)

It is obvious to me we need a third instrument, besides thermometers and barometers, but I never get time to think about what the new invention should be. I’m too busy chasing kids and chickens, and dealing with other details.

I need to simplify life, and have decided that, if I must make an extra effort (which makes life more complex) the effort would be this: I would throw away as much of my “stuff” as possible. Or give it to charity. Or hold a yard sale. Or sell it on E bay. However, because life has a sense of humor, right at this time my son-in-law faced a crisis, and needed to move in with his “stuff”.

When I was his age I faced a similar crisis, but was still a bachelor. All my stuff could fit in seven boxes, which overburdened a single shopping cart. My son-in-law needs around two hundred shopping carts. He and my daughter would make the most amazing homeless couple ever seen, with a veritable freight train of shopping carts.

Back around 1988 a “boom” called “The Massachusetts Miracle” went bust, and this area was particularly hard hit, as many worked construction and all the building associated with the “Massachusetts Miracle” came to an abrupt halt. Lots of fellows had been used to making $1600.00/week,  and had mortgages of $1600.00/month, and suddenly the best they could make was S400.00/week.  There was no way they could pay their mortgages, and many just walked out of their homes and left everything behind. I had a second job at night, cleaning up such places for a bank, and I was amazed at how much stuff they left behind. (Many went looking for work in other parts of the country, where building was still going on, and the population in this area actually fell for around five years).

In some houses there was a poignant melancholia staining the air as I walked in. There would still be two coffee cups on the kitchen counter, with two cigarettes in the ashtray. Children’s toys would be scattered about the floor.  Some bureau drawers were empty, but some still held clothes. I could go through old pay stubs, and see the $1600.00/week become $400.00/week, and see the wife start working, and the expense for daycare eat up her extra income, and the letters from the bank. It was like seeing the footprints of a dream that died. But in the end they headed off without a huge burden of stuff.

I was sort of figuring my son-in-law would do this, but am watching in horror as he saves every scrap of every thing. I’ve barely bit my tongue so far, but I can see life is going to get interesting. I mean, for example, how many toys does a small child need?

In the end I think we will decide life is much better with less stuff. Henry Thoreau was wise to own so little. He basically owned two pairs of pants; one pair he wore while he washed his other pair.

Small is better. Why would anyone want to be world famous, when they could be famous in a smaller but more significant way? For example, there once was a cartoonist named Francis Dahl who wrote for a Boston paper and Bostonians, and could never hope for the worldwide fame of Mark Twain. However he was great, in his neighborhood. When you think of it, who needs more?

It is interesting to look at Dahl’s old cartoons, written in the Great Depression and during World War Two, and to realize how little “stuff” Americans had back then. During the Great Depression everyone was broke, and during World War Two everyone was in the military. Then the war was won, the military discharged millions upon millions of young people, and they all wanted houses, but hardly a home had been built since 1929.  The first “stuff” all wanted was their own home, and here is a Dahl cartoon from 1947.


Many soldiers had seen California on their way to the Pacific War, and a flood of veterans decided to move there, and a vehicle was the “stuff” needed out there, but there was actually a shortage of cars in California, though Californians had a love-affair with cars. This situation resulted in this cartoon:


These cartoons, by an obscure cartoonist, mark the beginning of of a flood. “Stuff” became an American fixation and obsession. But floods give way to droughts. Perhaps (I hope) my homeless son-in-law arriving with 200 shopping carts of “stuff” may mark the beginning of the end to that fixation and obsession. And maybe I will even rise to the obscurity of Francis Dahl, by documenting the drought that followed the flood.

The arrival of 200 shopping carts may seem a small event in a remote place, like the tiny area of blue on the map early in this post, but avalanches can begin as a falling pebble, and the most mighty oak was once just an acorn. The false god of materialism trembles on his alter, as I start a campaign against stuff.

Henry Thoreau would be proud of me.




LOCAL VIEW –Reptiles Rule, Almost–

Every spring is different, and what has made this one unique has been the after-effects of a warm spell at the end of March followed by a deep freeze the first week of April. Certain flowering shrubs and trees, such as forsythia and black cherry, were right on the verge of blooming, and then seemed to put on the brakes. When the cold passed I waited for them to resume their budding and blooming, but the buds were blasted. The leaves came out, but there were simply no flowers this year.

I can’t tell you how much I missed the forsythia. It is such a happy bloom. It’s suppose to look like this amidst the late winter gray.Forsythia x intermedia Lynwood

Instead of that happy splash of color there were just stark stems, gradually leafing out with green. The cherry trees also just gradually leafed out. You could kiss your haiku sayonara.

Ordinarily the blooms, and especially the yellows, of spring evoke a sort of rollicking response in me. When I was a teenager, (after a winter that seemed particularly tragic to me, because a certain girl refused to smile),  even the yellowing of the branches of weeping willows defeated depression and prompted this joy:

Is that there a willow tree
In the winter’s gray?
Clowning yellows happily
And laughing in its play:
“Spring will come some day!”

Can it be a hidden grin
Is bursting out aloud?
A boatless sailors porpoise fin?
I see you’re in
Beneath your shroud.

But that was yesterday, and yesterdays’s gone.

Actually those two fellows are far too happy, singing that song. They fail to be morose in the proper manner. (Perhaps I should have linked to them singing, “Willow weep for me”.)

To live through a spring without the initial blooms is a sobering experience. After all, black cherries feed a lot of birds and critters, and it looks like there won’t be any, this year. Birds will be forced to seek alternative sources of nourishment, such as my vegetable garden.

The weather has gradually warmed in a desultory sort of way, and even the cold-blooded reptiles are stirring. Of course, snapping turtles are not welcome at my Farm-childcare, as their bite can take a child’s finger off. Yet one made an appearance today, though it was camera shy:

Snapping turtle IMG_2938

The males never leave the water, and tend to be draped by festoons of slimy algae, but the females can lumber quite amazing distances from their ponds to lay their eggs. Sometimes they travel five miles.  I think they don’t much want to share their ponds with their own children, or perhaps they don’t want the tiny offspring to be lunch for the grouchy fathers. The children are about the size of the lens in an average pair of spectacles, while the female in the above picture had a shell 18 inches (46 cm) from front to back. You shouldn’t be fooled by their lovely, friendly faces

Snapping turtle snapperhead

Photo credit

Because they have very long necks

Snapping 3 common-snapping-turtle-breathing-at-surface-of-the-water (1)

Photo Credit

And they can bite you when you think you are at a safe distance.

Lastly, small children at a Childcare are not known for following orders. In some ways a farm is a good way to teach children to listen to elders; especially the older boys who are more rebellious. I once derived a certain smug and silent satisfaction when I witnessed a young know-it-all fleeing the rooster, setting a record for the hundred yard dash across the pasture, with the rooster a close second. I had repetitively warned the lad, “Stay away from that rooster”, but he wouldn’t listen. After the dash I didn’t have to say a word; the rooster had done the teaching.

On another occasion, after repeatedly telling a nine-year-old boy not to tease a particular goat we called “The Mean Queen”, I watched as that goat singled him out and, ignoring all the other children, stalked him like a cat does an unwary mouse, and gave him a good clout, pinning him against a tree. (The goat was hornless). The boy shot me a startled glace as he wriggled away from the goat, but I only shrugged and spread my palms in a way that was sign language for, “I told you so, but you didn’t listen, did you?”

However having a child lose a finger seems like going a wee bit too far, in my policy of letting children learn, from mistakes, that elders are doing more than ruining the fun, when they give orders.

We get many small children who arrive at our Childcare without any self discipline; wee tots turned into tyrants by permissive parents; and it takes me a while to teach them I am a fierce old grouch, a force to be reckoned with, as my “no” means “no” even if they tantrum until they are blue in the face.  (I might get faster results if corporal punishment was allowed, but it isn’t.) Progress is very slow in some cases, and I can’t take chances with a four-year-old “testing his boundaries” when I tell him to avoid a snapping turtle. Therefore I tend to get rid of snapping turtles at our Farm-childcare, when I can.

There shouldn’t be any uproar about turtle-removal, for snapping turtles are not endangered species in these parts, and about the only good they do is reduce the population of invasive Canada Geese by nabbing the cute goslings as they swim behind their parents. (Every golf course should import snapping turtles into their water hazards, to rid the fairways of Canada Geese.) Therefore there should be no uproar if we get rid of a turtle in the most natural and efficient way, which is to eat them.

We did eat a big old male, once, (and I have never chewed a tougher and more rubbery meat; I must have prepared it incorrectly.  I stewed it, and no amount of boiling would soften the meat.) However I have since learned modern mothers have soft hearts about most everything.  They are very spiritual, believe the lion should lay down with the lamb, and likely have never seen five cute goslings swimming behind a mother goose abruptly become four cute goslings behind a mother goose.  If they saw that their opinions might change, but as it is they are so softhearted they can make me feel guilty about putting a worm on a fishhook. The long version of this education involved a time I showed the kids how to make woodchuck stew, and if you have the time you can read about my education here:

The short version is that I’ve learned it is safest to either make sure parents sign a permission slip, or look over both shoulders surreptitiously, before I so much as bait a hook.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate being educated by mothers younger than my daughters, and I may become a Buddhist yet, as I contemplate the feelings of worms as I hook them. (If not a Buddhist, I may become a fly fisherman). However it does seem odd young mothers want to control me, when they can’t control their darling toddler Adolf.

In any case, a snapping turtle on the Childcare property does present me with a bit of a problem.

This snapper would not even give me a decent picture. (That is why I had to use the pictures of others, and supply photo credits). I like taking my own pictures, but this female only poked her long neck up like a periscope once, and then, seeing I hadn’t left (and before I could aim my camera), ducked back down. She nestled more deeply into the leaves , and occasionally heaved a sigh, but didn’t poke her head up a second time, (which would have made a great picture.)

I waited and waited. I was so silent I could hear the grass grow, which reminded me of the job I was doing, when I first saw her, (mowing the grass.) Grass sometimes seems it is the only thing that is growing, this stunted spring. It’s a blasted nuisance. I’d rather watch a turtle than make a racket with a mower. But sometimes a man’s just got to do what a man’s got to do.

I use up lots of gas. It’s how I earn my pay:
Cutting lots of grass but never making hay.
Hay could feed some sheep which could feed and cloth the poor.
It makes me want to weep. Just who am I mowing for?

I’m a lawn-mowing man! I make the noise pollution!
I just do what I can, and await a revolution.

I kept checking on the turtle as I mowed, but she just stayed there, until I decided she must be laying eggs. This got me thinking. Turtle eggs make good eating, though they have some odd qualities. The whites never turn white, even if you boil them an hour, and therefore you need to fry them, or get over your dislike of uncooked whites. In either case, cooking turtle eggs would be yet another activity that makes my Childcare different from other Childcares.  At the very least, thinking about it kept mowing-the-grass from boring me to death.

It takes longer, but one thing I insist upon as I mow is bagging all the clippings and using them to mulch the garden. It cuts back on weeding, (which I like only slightly more than mowing), and also it makes mowing seem less pointless and useless. I mean, if people are going to worry about Global Warming, and yet use up umpteen gallons of fossil fuel cutting grass, and never use the grass for anything useful, then they will never dare criticize me, for I actually utilize what I cut. Right?

Wrong. I’ll save the details for some other night, but there are some folk who just hate farmers. No matter what you do they see it as some sort of rape of the environment.

It all seemed to conspire in a way that soured my sense of spring. Just as the forsythia has no happy yellow blooms, the next generation sometimes seems like a bunch of soured mothers with soured children. Grumph. Grumph. Grumph. And just then the next reptile gave me a shock, as I brought grass clippings to the garden.

Snake 1 FullSizeRender

It was a harmless and common garter snake, but snakes always make me jump at first. This one slithered into weeds and was being as uncooperative as the snapping turtle, when it came to being photogenic. However I was sick and tired of being patient with others when others are not always patient with me, so I poked it and forced it out into the sun.

Even the above photo seemed pretty dull, and unlikely to attract people to my website, and the snake wouldn’t sit still and be photogenic, and therefore, to make this post more interesting, I stepped on the end of the snake’s tail.

Snake 2 IMG_2965

Much more photogenic! What’s more, I noticed the snake’s tongue darted in and out much more often, when it was trapped. The tongues of snakes dart so quickly I’ve never gotten a good picture of one with its tongue out, but this seemed my chance.  I nearly exhausted my cell phone, but finally\ managed to catch this shot.

Snake 3 FullSizeRender

I was so pleased with the picture that I smugly decided there was a slight likelihood that the photo could go viral, and appear all over the web as an illustration for various blogs. But was the snake grateful for the possibility of fame?

Snake 4 FullSizeRender

Talk about unappreciative! But that’s how things have been going, this spring. You get no flowers. But I decided that, if the stupid snake didn’t want to be famous, he could go crawl about on his belly for all I cared. I would go see if the snapping turtle was more interested.

The snapping turtle had vanished. Furthermore, she left me no eggs. Apparently she only hunkered down in the leaves because she doesn’t like pictures, and deemed me the paparazzi. The nerve! Who does she think she is? Some Hollywood star?

As I rolled my eyes to heaven I noticed something. A branch of high-bush blueberry was loaded with blooms. Rather than finishing the lawn I investigated further into the brush. It was amazing, for every blueberry bush was covered with more blooms than I’d ever seen before.

Blueberries 1 IMG_2981

So maybe I did get some flowers after all. I just had to look for them.

Not that I expect any berries. This is likely just the Creator’s way of making up for the fact there will be few black cherries this year. Once birds realize there are few cherries, every bird in town will be chowing down in by blueberry patch.

My brief elation over blooms gave way to a gloom over an imagined lack of berries, and I trudged back to finish mowing the lawn.

That might make a good end to this post, but there was more, for the wind was picking up, purple clouds came hurrying over, and by the time I finished the lawn the gusts were chilly, and a driving mist was hinting at April. I rushed home to check the weather radar on my computer, and could see a cold front was ramming through, and that May snows were falling back in the Great Lakes, behind the front.

The way this spring has been going, the blueberry blooms will also get burned by frost, and they’ll wind up being worse than “for the birds”. They will be blasted, and there will be no berries for the birds. It will be, in the end, a sullen spring, a spring without flowers.

As I sat slumped at the computer, thinking how sad it is this spring gives me no bouquets, my wife, (who does not like it when I hurry to the computer to hunch over a radar screen without even saying “hello”), asked me if I’d completed a particular chore. Fortunately I had actually done it, though how I found the time only God knows. After all, as my faithful readers know, when I mow a lawn it involves a lot more than cutting the grass. It involves turtles. It involves snakes. It involves mulching the garden. It involves the blueberry crop, and the well-being of birds. It involves scanning the sky for frost in May. It involves important stuff, significant stuff,  like Global Warming. It involves the price of eggs in Africa.

Some days I envy robots. When they mow the grass, that is all they do. Some days I take my gloom a step farther, and think my wife would be happier with a robot. My daughters are not. They insist on bringing boys home that make even me look sensible. These young men do know about snapping turtles, but only because apparently there is a snapping turtle in some video game. Many do not know how to mow a non-virtual lawn.

The last video game I played was called “centipede”, a quarter century ago. Since then I’ve been too busy in the non-virtual reality to even watch ordinary TV shows. The only reason I go on-line is to study meteorology. The only reason I am involved in politics is because “Global Warming” dragged me into it, when all I originally wanted to do was avoid talking about unsafe stuff like religion and politics, and talk about “safe” stuff like the weather.

Be that as it may, I am now neck deep in serious stuff, significant stuff,  involving the hot topic of Global Warming. So far there is no reward. It is the epitome of a spring without flowers. In fact it is proof gloom is wise. To delve into the internet in this respect makes me live in a sort of basement.

Gloom IMG_2909

There is no forsythia in the above picture.  No happy spring. I can search the web all I want and my wisdom just gets darker. The politics of Global Warming isn’t warm, and proves cold-blooded reptiles rule, almost.

Almost, but not quite, due to an occupational hazard you face, if you run a Childcare. When you deal with children you may be older and wiser, and understand the logic of reptiles, but children know something reptiles don’t, and can be forsythia even when forsythia can’t.Gloom 2 IMG_2920

You can have been working a solid week to nurse a good gloom into life, but then a child will ruin it in five seconds. So I guess I’ll be gloomy about that.

I am bemused by my self, and conclude
I was made on a day the Creator
Mixed up pots of stuff that held nothing rude
And made good men, but when done, still had more.
In the artist pot, there was not enough
To make one; in the engineer pot,
Not enough; and so on, but such stuff
Should not be wasted, and so He took the lot
And mixed all together, curious
About what the mix might turn out to be.
I think that I ought to be furious
For the mix that he made turned out to be me.
I’m a Jack-of-all-trades who can do nothing well,
But if you make the Lord smile, you won’t go to hell.